The best picnic and barbecue foods are those that you prepare ahead and then needn't worry about in this hot summer season once they have been served.
.6 Here are a variety of unusual salads that fit the bill on both counts.
The dressings and ingredients for the salads can be prepared one day in advance. On the day of the party, assemble the salads several hours ahead to allow time for the ingredients to marinate and the flavors to blend.
Most of these salads have a base of either grain or pasta -- no lettuce here to wilt and become soggy in the heat of a steamy summer day.
The recipes that follow are for Orzo with Roasted Peppers and Sherry Vinaigrette, Fiesta Salad (with corn, peppers, okra and cucumber), Bulghur Wheat with Avocado, Yellow Bean Sunburst with Balsamic Velvet, Tamarind Rice Salad, Lentil and Chive Salad, and Japanese Noodle Salad with Pickled Ginger.
Serve the salads at room temperature to take full advantage of the fragrant oils, herbs and seasonings in the dressings.
Orzo is a miniature pasta about 3/8" long and the same shape as a grain of rice but wider across. Traditionally used for rice pilaf, orzo is cooked in olive oil until golden brown to lend color contrast to white rice. The same procedure is followed to add both flavor and a nutty brown color to this salad. The orzo is then cooked in water, as rice is.
In order to tie the salad and dressing together, two ingredients in the dressing are added to the cooking water for the orzo -- sherry and sherry vinegar. This technique is repeated for many of the pasta and grain bases of the salads that follow.
RECIPE ORZO WITH ROASTED PEPPERS AND SHERRY VINAIGRETTE (Makes 6 cups or 8 to 10 servings)
.5 Sherry vinegar is a hearty and sweet-sharp vinegar that is deep caramel in color. Pair it with a medium sweet sherry as a unique flavor base for a salad dressing. Spanish onions, green olives, capers and roasted peppers impart a Spanish flair to this hearty salad.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups orzo
1/2 cup medium sweet sherry
1/2 cup sherry vinegar
2 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup minced spanish onion
5 stuffed green olives, sliced into 1/8-inch wide circles
8 black greek olives, pitted, slivered
2 tablespoons drained capers, dried on paper towels
3/4 cup julienned roasted red peppers, 1/4-by- 1/8-by-3-inches long, dried on paper towels
FOR THE SHERRY VINAIGRETTE:
5 to 6 anchovies, pressed between paper towels
2 to 3 large cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons medium sweet sherry
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons black pepper
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley for serving
1/4 cup slivered fresh basil for serving
Heat the olive oil, add the orzo and cook on medium high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often until golden brown. Stir in the sherry, sherry vinegar, water and salt. Bring to a boil and cook uncovered for 5 minutes, stirring often until craters form in the surface of the orzo when stirred. Reduce heat to simmer, cover pan, and cook for 5 minutes. Do not lift the lid. Remove the orzo from the heat, and let stand covered for 5 minutes. Uncover and stir orzo with a chopstick to separate the grains. The orzo should be tender. If a bit of liquid remains in the bottom of the pan, return the pan to high heat, stirring constantly for 1 minute until dry.
Stir the onion, olives, capers and roasted red peppers into the warm orzo.
Make the dressing while the orzo is cooking. Mash the anchovies with the garlic to form a paste. Whisk in the mustard, sherry, sherry vinegar, olive oil and black pepper. Pour the dressing over the orzo mixture and gently toss with chopsticks to blend. Let stand at room temperature for 2 hours before serving.
Just before serving, stir in 3 tablespoons parsley and all the basil. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve on a bright ceramic platter and sprinkle top with remaining parsely.
RECIPE FIESTA SALAD (8 servings)
The zest and tang of fresh cilantro enhance the heat of jalapenåo peppers in the dressing for this festive summer salad. Great served with grilled ribs, pork chops and chicken.
FOR THE JALAPENO DRESSING:
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon minced fresh jalapenåo pepper
1 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
1/3 cup corn oil
FOR THE SALAD:
4 cups cooked fresh corn kernels, drained, dried on a clean tea towel
1/2 cup cubed red pepper, cut in 1/2-inch dices
1 cup blanched sliced okra, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch circles
1/2 cup thinly sliced scallion, green and white parts included
3/4 peeled, seeded, cubed cucumber, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 cup minced fresh cilantro (substitute basil, oregano or tarragon, if desired)
1 bunch fresh watercress, cleaned (optional)
For the dressing: Whisk together the vinegar, salt, jalapenåo pepper, black and white pepper. Gradually add the corn oil. The dressing will be quite strong since the vegetables will dilute it considerably.
In a non-corrosive bowl toss the corn, red pepper, okra, scallion, cucumber and cilantro together. Two hours before serving, stir the dressing, pour over vegetables and gently toss. Cover and let stand at room temperature until serving time.
If using the watercress, cut the bottom of the stalks off to leave a 3-inch piece of watercress. Line the edges of a platter with the stalks and fill the center with the corn salad. Serve at once.
RECIPE BULGHUR WHEAT WITH AVOCADO (10 servings)
If you like tabbouleh, the wonderful Middle Eastern bulghur wheat and mint salad, you will certainly enjoy this adaptation. The recipe seems to make a lot, but by the time you serve it, quite a bit will have disappeared. As the salad marinates, the temptation to taste the development of the seasonings is too great. Serve with crusty lamb, fish, seafood or beef.
FOR THE TARRAGON DRESSING:
1/2 cup tarragon vinegar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 to 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons dried tarragon
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
FOR THE SALAD:
2 cups fine bulghur wheat
1 cup cold water
7 scallions, green and white parts, minced
20 thin asparagus stalks, or green beans, blanched, dried, diagonally sliced 1-inch long
1 zucchini, julienned 1-by- 1/8-by- 1/8-inches
2 ripe avocados, peeled, in 3/4-inch cubes
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 red pepper, slivered lengthwise
For the dressing: Whisk together the tarragon vinegar, lemon juice, salt, pepper, tarragon and olive oil.
Put the bulghur wheat in a long rectangular pan and pour the water over it. Stir and let stand covered with plastic wrap at room temperature for 20 to 30 minutes until the wheat is tender. Stir bulghur with a chopstick to separate grains. Mix in the scallions.
Drizzle some dressing over the asparagus, zucchini and avocado to lightly coat and add the vegetables to the bulghur wheat. Whisk the remaining dressing, pour over the salad and gently toss. Cover and let stand for 2 hours before serving. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Serve the salad at room temperature, sprinkled with the toasted pine nuts and slivered red pepper.
RECIPE YELLOW BEAN SUNBURST WITH BALSAMIC VELVET (4 servings)
We always had a great crop of pole beans each summer, but the yellow beans were always my favorite. The beans are quickly cooked until tender-crisp and then served with a velvety sauce that melds earthy and fragrant balsamic vinegar with rich whipping cream. Serve the salad with juicy grilled steaks, salmon, small whole trout or chicken.
1 pound wax or yellow beans, cleaned and left whole
1/2 pound fresh okra (or substitute green beans, zucchini fingers or snow peas)
2 small ripe tomatoes, cut into 8 wedges each
li,2 FOR THE BALSAMIC VELVET: (Makes about 1 cup)
li,2 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon creamed horseradish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup whipping cream (not ultrapasteurized)
3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
Steam beans for 4 to 5 minutes until tender-crisp. Run the beans under cold water to stop cooking, drain and dry between clean tea towels. Refrigerate overnight loosely wrapped in paper towels in a plastic bag if desired.
Steam the okra for 2 minutes until bright green and tender. Cool under cold running water, drain and dry between clean tea towels. Store the okra using the same method as for the beans. Do not overcook okra or it will become gummy.
For the dressing: Whisk the balsamic vinegar, horseradish, salt and pepper together. Gradually whisk in the cream until the sauce is light and fluffy. Cover and refrigerate until ready to use or overnight.
To arrange the salad: Halve the okra lengthwise, removing the stem end if desired. Separate the 2 halves and alternate groups of yellow beans and okra, cut side up, on a round flat platter to form a sunburst pattern. Place 2 tomato wedges, cut side down, to separate the bean and okra segments.
Just before serving, stir 2 1/2 tablespoons parsley into the sauce and place in a small bowl in the center of the sunburst. Sprinkle the top of the dressing with the remaining parsley.
RECIPE TAMARIND RICE SALAD (Makes 4 cups to serve 8)
Tamarind pulp is the flesh and seeds of the 2- to 6-inch pods of the graceful tamarind tree. It is dried for commercial purposes and packed in small blocks. The pulp is similar to the texture of a date with a very tart taste. It makes an excellent flavor base for marinades and dressings. Pink pickled ginger is made from fresh ginger sliced paper thin and pickled in a vinegar and sugar syrup. You will find it most often served along with wasabi when you order sushi in a Japanese restaurant.
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/2 cup tamarind liquid*
2 cups water
1 tablespoon minced pickled jalapenåo chilies
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups long grain rice
3 scallions, green and white parts, slivered diagonally and separated
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 tablespoons slivered pink pickled ginger
1 1/2 cups cooked peas or frozen peas, thawed, dried, uncooked
16 fresh spinach leaves
li,2 FOR THE TAMARIND DRESSING: (Makes about 2/3 cup)
li,2 3 tablespoons tamarind liquid*
2 tablespoons coconut milk
2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 teaspoons minced pickled jalapenåo peppers
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup peanut oil
In a medium size pot mix the coconut milk, tamarind liquid, water, chilies and salt. Bring to a boil and add the rice. Boil the rice, uncovered, for 5 minutes, stirring often, until craters form in the rice when stirred. Remove the pot from the burner, reduce the heat to low, cover the pot and return to the burner. Simmer the rice for 5 minutes. Do not lift the lid. Remove the pot from the heat and let stand, covered, for 5 to 7 minutes. All the liquid should be absorbed and the rice tender. Stir the rice with a chopstick to separate the grains.
For the dressing: Mix together the tamarind liquid, coconut milk, minced garlic, chilies, cumin, turmeric, dry mustard, salt, pepper, and peanut oil.
Pour 1/2 cup dressing over the warm rice and stir with chopsticks to blend. Reserving 1 tablespoon each of scallions and parsley for decoration, add the scallions, parsley and pickled ginger and mix. Let the salad stand at room temperature for 2 hours before serving or cover and refrigerate overnight. Add peas just before serving or they will change color from the acid in the dressing.
Arrange spinach leaves around the outside of a platter and fill the center with the rice mixture. Sprinkle the top of the salad with the reserved scallions and parsley.
*To make the tamarind liquid, mash 1/2 cup tamarind pulp with 1 cup water and microwave 1 minute or simmer for 3 minutes to soften. Let stand at room temperature for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Press mixture through a fine strainer to extract as much liquid as possible. There will be about 1 cup. Refrigerate any remaining tamarind liquid for future use. Tamarind pulp is available in Oriental markets.
RECIPE LENTIL AND CHIVE SALAD (Makes 6 cups to serve 8)
Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes, as they are often called, are a small nubbly vegetable, similar in appearance to ginger root. Once peeled, they reveal a juicy white flesh that has a mild flavor and a crisp texture like a water chestnut. Use the flesh raw in fruit or vegetable salads. Serve the Lentil and Chive salad with grilled poultry, pork or fish.
1 cup minced onion
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cup lentils (8 ounces)
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
li,2 FOR THE LEMON AND CHILI DRESSING:
li,2 5 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
2 tablespoons tomato sauce
2 teaspoons chili powder
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1/4 cup olive oil
li,2 TO FINISH:
li,2 1 cup 1/2-inch diced Jerusalem artichokes, jicama or water chestnuts
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
1 cup minced fresh chives (frozen chives or minced fresh parsley may be substituted)
1 cup 1/4-inch diced yellow pepper
1 cup 1/4-inch diced green pepper
1 small head romaine lettuce, cleaned, leaves separated
2 to 3 tomatoes, sliced
Saute' the onions in the olive oil. Add the lentils, lemon juice, chili powder, salt and 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Cover and simmer lentils for 25 to 30 minutes until just tender. Remove lid, increase heat to high and stir lentils with a chopstick to evaporate any liquid that remains in the pan for 2 to 3 minutes.
For the dressing: Whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, tomato sauce, chili powder, lemon zest, salt, black pepper, white pepper and olive oil. The dressing should be quite strong since the lentils will dilute it.
Toss the Jerusalem artichokes with dressing to lightly coat. Place the lentils in a bowl and add the artichokes to the salad. Whisk the dressing and pour most of it over the lentils. Mix in the almonds, 3/4 cup chives, yellow pepper and green pepper. Let salad marinate, covered, for 2 hours at room temperature.
Just before serving, line a platter with the romaine leaves and spoon the lentil salad into the middle. Arrange the tomato slices over the romaine and drizzle with the remaining dressing. Sprinkle both the tomatoes and salad with the 1/4 cup minced chives. Serve salad at room temperature.
RECIPE JAPANESE NOODLE SALAD WITH PICKLED GINGER (6 to 8 servings)
Somen are white, pencil thin Japanese noodles sold in small bundles. They require only 2 to 3 minutes to cook and are delicious in salads and hot and cold soups. Pink pickled ginger is made from fresh ginger sliced paper thin and pickled in a vinegar and sugar syrup. Serve the noodle salad with grilled beef, seafood, fish or lamb.
FOR THE SESAME DRESSING:
(Makes 1 1/2 cups)
li,2 1/4 cup rice vinegar*
4 teaspoons wasabi*
1/2 cup ginger marmalade, pure'ed
1/4 cup soy sauce
6 tablespoons sesame oil*
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
li,2 FOR THE SALAD:
li,2 6 ounces Japanese somen*
1 cucumber, seeded, shredded 1/16-by-1/16-inches long
1 large carrot, peeled, shredded same as cucumber, blanched (1 cup)
1/4 cup slivered pink pickled ginger*
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds*
1 tablespoon toasted white sesame seeds*
1 tablespoon roasted nori, julienned 1/8-by-2-inches long*
1 ripe papaya, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch wedges (substitute cantaloupe if desired)
1/4 pound snow peas, blanced, chilled and dried (about 25 pods or substitute avocado slices)
For the sesame dressing: Whisk the rice vinegar into the wasabi to form a smooth paste. Stir in the ginger marmalade, soy sauce, sesame oil and black pepper.
Break the somen in half and cook in boiling salted water for about 3 minutes until tender. Drain somen, run under cold water to stop cooking and dry on clean tea towels for 5 minutes. Toss the somen with dressing to lightly coat and prevent sticking. Cover and refrigerate overnight if desired.
Toss the cucumber, carrot and pickled ginger separately with dressing to lightly coat and add to the noodles. Sprinkle the noodles with the black and toasted sesame seeds. Reserve 3 to 4 tablespoons of dressing for the papaya and snow peas and toss the salad with the remaining dressing.
To serve the salad, arrange the noodles in the center of a platter and sprinkle with the roasted nori. Alternate the snow peas and papaya around the noodles in a sunburst pattern and drizzle with remaining dressing. Serve the salad at room temperature.
* Available in Japanese and Oriented grocery stores.